Education and Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month, a time to remember the struggle of women worldwide for basic human rights. This year, the theme is “Education”, and Barakat has joined the chorus in support of women’s education worldwide.

To give you an idea of how far women have come in this regard in the U.S.; in post Revolutionary-War America, education for women was only supported because an educated mother was viewed as better equipped to raise an educated son. Today, according to a 2006 report by the New York Times, women in the United States make up 58 percent of bachelor’s degree candidates, earn 62 percent of associate degrees, 60 percent of master’s degrees, and 50 percent of doctorates. However, this advancement in women’s education is not common worldwide.

Historically, in the areas of South and Central Asia, where Barakat’s work is focused, education has been tied to religion. Formal schooling was widely recognized as the teaching of law and correct behavior from the Koran. In Afghanistan, for example, education for women was virtually nonexistent until 1919, when King Amunullah greatly expanded secular education for the country. When the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan in 1996, the educational infrastructure crumbled. Until the regime was overthrown in 2001, education for women and girls was essentially abolished. They established Madrassas (Mosque Schools), which enrolled 1.2 million students, only 50,000 of whom were girls.

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And still today, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, school is viewed as a useless interference in a woman’s ability to make money to put food on the table. Every hour spent in the classroom is regarded as a waste of valuable time that could have been spent contributing to family income.

Adding to this problem, Afghanistan and Pakistan battle poverty as one of the biggest obstacles to education. When a family has to decide between paying tuition for a young girl to go to school or investing in a son’s education – the latter is often the obvious choice; young men are seen as having better future opportunities than their sisters.

In Afghanistan today, girls make up only 37 percent of the student population. The situation in Pakistan is marginally better. According to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 60 percent of girls, and 84 percent of boys, are enrolled in primary schools. Meanwhile 32 percent of girls and 46 percent of boys are enrolled in secondary schools.

Recognizing the unfair advantage given to male students, Barakat offers various incentives for young girls and women to attend our schools. There are no tuition fees for a young girl or a woman to attend a Barakat school or community literacy programs. Furthermore, Barakat offers literacy courses and schools during “off-work” hours so it doesn’t take away from a woman’s ability to contribute to household income during the day! This is done in the hope that the family will have no excuse to deny their daughters the basic human right of having an education.

In addition, there are scholarship opportunities for young women attending Barakat schools. Among the many success stories of Barakat students, the scholarship students shine particularly brightly. The Jolkona Foundation, for example, sponsors qualified students that plan to pursue higher education. Currently, there are two scholarship students studying in Pakistan in the Sewad Hiyati program. There are also three students on public scholarship programs for Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

This newsletter features our teachers, their thoughts on women’s rights and their work. Teachers like Humaira and Mohammad play a critical role in advancing Barakat’s mission to provide education to girls and women where this basic human right has been kept out of their reach.

Without YOU, we couldn’t continue to empower women in this basic and crucial way. Barakat looks forward to your continued financial support and friendship in this endeavor. Please donate today!